Grant Supports Research on Global Climate Change
Posted July 8, 2003
HOLLAND -- Biology researchers at Hope College
will model changes in the global climate through new
equipment being purchased with a grant from the National
Science Foundation (NSF), hoping to better understand just
what the world can expect as carbon dioxide levels continue
The $154,058, three-year grant will fund the
purchase of four controlled-environment, plant-growth
chambers. The chambers will enable the biologists to see
how plants fare when they change light duration, light
intensity, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels.
Plant-growth chambers aren't new at the college--
Hope faculty and students have been conducting collaborative
research using them for decades. The ability to factor
carbon dioxide into the mix, however, is new--and
particularly relevant, according to Dr. Thomas Bultman, who
is principal investigator for the project and is also a
professor of biology and chairperson of the department.
"It's quite clear that the percentage of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere has gone up in the last 100
years," Bultman said. "It's due to the Industrial
Revolution and all the fossil fuels that we're burning."
Bultman noted that carbon dioxide levels have
climbed from 316 parts per million in the atmosphere in 1960
to 370 parts per million currently. The increase, he said,
is believed to contribute to the "greenhouse effect," since
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere allows the suns rays to
reach the earth but then serves as a shield that keeps them
from leaving again.
On one level, Bultman said, more carbon dioxide
could be a boon to plants, since they process the gas as
part of their life cycle, producing oxygen. But altering
the balance, he said, could change much.
"In ecological systems, everything is tied
together. The question becomes: how do other things change
when you change one thing?," he said. "Do all plants do
better? Do some plants do better than others--competition?
How are the insects affected that feed on these plants?"
Three members of the faculty will be directing
research projects using the expanded modeling capability of
the new chambers: Bultman; Dr. K. Gregory Murray, professor
of biology; and Dr. Debbie Swarthout, assistant professor of
biology. They will be conducting their work collaboratively
with Hope students.
Bultman will consider the way that carbon dioxide
and drought interact in a fungus and grass, and also how the
changes affect insects. Murray will be seeking
physiological explanations for changes in the distribution
of tree seedlings within the cloud forests at Monteverde,
Costa Rica. Swarthout will examine how the fungus alters
the carbon-gaining capacity of the grass as carbon dioxide
levels increase and nutrients and water decline.
The chambers each measure about eight feet long,
three feet wide and six feet tall. They will be placed
together in a single room, and linked by a computer network
that will allow them to be controlled by the researchers
from a variety of locations.
They will be installed in the Peale Science
Center, ready for use when the building's renovation is
complete a year from now.